Here at Hit Subscribe, we help companies with content marketing, and with content marketing strategy. But, unlike a lot of agencies, we focus on a very specific niche: companies that market to software developers. This means that we live at the intersection of the software development world and the content marketing world.
It also means that we trade a great deal in content marketing strategy for software development companies. It’s a huge part of our business.
Historically, we’ve worked with some well-established companies, furnishing content and doing keyword research. But as we’re growing and maturing, we find ourselves offering advice to companies just starting out with content marketing. So they lean on us for overarching strategy.
And that strategy is what I’d like to talk about today. If you’re marketing to software developers and just getting started with content marketing, how should you approach it? Well, stay tuned. I have some tips, forged in the fires of hard-won experience.
Is Content Marketing Really Different in the Software World?
Before talking specifics about tips, though, let’s answer an important question.
You might be wondering whether the software world is any different than the wider world when it comes to content marketing. Is marketing to software developers unique?
Well, yes and no.
First, it’s not different in the sense that many core content marketing principles come into play regardless. You’re delivering free value to attract trust and mind share over the course of time, and you’re playing a long game. Those core ideas don’t change.
But it is different in more subtle ways, which is where the “yes” comes in.
First of all, software developers tend more toward skepticism and cynicism than your average readers, making them much more sensitive to fluff pieces or over the top marketing activities. And, secondly, their professional interests tend to attract them more towards guides and how-to content compared to most folks.
So if you’re coming to the software world from another industry, prepare yourself for needing to produce more authentic and detailed content than you might be used to. Of course, if you’ve always been in the software world and are starting a new company, that particular distinction is probably old hat.
Either way, with that in mind, let’s look at some specific tips.
1. Understand What Happens at the Bottom of Your Content Marketing Funnel
If you’re not familiar with the concept of a marketing funnel, you’ll want to learn about it. Briefly, it’s the idea that you’ll want to cast a wide net to the world of your prospective buyers, bringing a subset of them along for the ride to become followers and eventually customers. I mean, theoretically, you’d like to bring everyone, but in practice, not everyone that lands on your site would make a good customer.
And, that’s okay.
The marketing funnel helps you find, nurture, and qualify eventual buyers. Done right, it makes your sales process a lot easier and raises your customer satisfaction rates.
And your content marketing plays a huge part in making that happen.
But to get the most out of your content, you have to first understand what happens when your prospective buyers get as far along in their journeys as they can possibly go. Here’s what I mean. If you sell a freemium tool with paid plans starting under $10 per month, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect people to get out their wallets after reading and resonating with a few blog posts.
But if you sell something for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, that’s not reasonable. If you have that kind of offering, your content marketing funnel will end in something like a sales call.
So start by understanding how far your content is actually going to take your buyers, and what the best outcome is. Is it a purchase? Trial download? Phone call? Signing up for a mailing list?
Start with the end in mind, and the rest of your strategy falls into place.
2. Establish KPIs Right Away (But Be Willing to Adapt)
Once you’ve established the ultimate goal of your content marketing efforts, you can start to look at key performance indicators (KPIs). Your bottom of the funnel activity will inform these.
Here are some example KPIs that you can consider and track.
- Number of conversions (to whatever you’re targeting—trial download, purchase, etc)
- Raw organic traffic
- Bounce-rate (a measure of whether people are “one and done” or move through your site with interest)
- Social engagement/share
- Visits to a product/download/trial page
- Email newsletter sign-ups.
- Time on page
This is not an exhaustive list, by any stretch. it’s just a series of common and relatively “measurable” ones.
Work backward from your ultimate content goal and pick which of these you want to track to help inform your progress to your ultimate goal. And, yes, you do need to keep track of KPIs. Without them, you’re just throwing things out there and hoping for the best, which gives you no ability to determine what’s working for you and what isn’t and to adapt accordingly.
3. Focus on Organic Traffic
This next tip will probably help you somewhat with KPIs. I’d suggest focusing exclusively on organic traffic (Google searches), particularly if you’re brand new to the content marketing game.
ahrefs, experts in search engine optimization (SEO) actually shares this perspective. In a lengthy blog post about increasing traffic, they offer the following advice.
It can be tempting to write about whatever currently excites you. This could be a hot industry topic, an exciting feature release, or even just a random rant.
Don’t do this!
To illustrate the reason why, try asking yourself one simple question: Will this article send me traffic two years from now? (And how?)
There are a few ways that you can bring traffic to the new content you’re creating: organic search, promoting/sharing on social media, paid search. If you’re posting hot takes, only the promotion/share will apply, since nobody is out googling your hot takes, and strangers probably won’t click on them through ads.
As a relative novice at content marketing, with a presumably limited budget and a small following, organic search is absolutely your best long term bet.
4. Favor Practitioner Content
As you generate this content and target organic search, you might wonder what sort of content to generate. Well, let me clear that up for you. You’ll want to generate authentic content.
This doesn’t need to be expert content, per se, (more on this shortly) and it’s not really about establishing authority. Rather, you want to help the prospective customers (i.e. software developers) searching the internet for information and finding your blog.
This means that, while you don’t need the foremost experts, you do need authentic content from techies.
Remember how I said that software developers tend toward skepticism? If you have someone from your marketing department or recruitment staff writing content and trying to pass it off as technical, that will not go well. You need actual techies.
This could be you, if you’re a technical founder or solo practitioner. If you’re a startup, you might rely on your engineers. Or, you might outsource it, they way Hit Subscribe’s clients do with us. But however you do it, make it authentic.
5. Start With Blog Content, and Efficiently Re-purpose It for Other Media
When you first start with content, you can easily feel paralyzed with options. If you’re not careful, this can lead you to unproductive thrashing.
“I’ve been writing posts on our company blog, but I see that people are having luck on Medium. Should I write content there? What about syndicating on LinkedIn? Do we want to be on Youtube…”
You’ll drive yourself to madness.
We’ve done this before, for a lot of clients. So let us ease your burden a little.
Start with your blog and produce regular content for it. From there, if you have time and energy, you can take the content that you’re producing for your blog and re-purpose it in other places. You own that content, so it’s yours to do with as you will, when you will (in a way that it wouldn’t be if you spent all of your time on Facebook, Medium, or Q&A sites)
There are plenty of great strategies for syndication and tapping into other media. But start with your blog, establish a content production operation, and then expand it.
6. Focus on Your Readers (Buyers) and Not on Your Company
I’ve written about this before, but I’ll repeat it here. Don’t make your blog all about you. It’s about your readers (prospective buyers).
You might find yourself tempted to post lots of company announcements, and to chronicle the comings and goings of staff. This is a “web LOG” after all, isn’t it?
Resist that temptation.
Remember how I said that you want to focus principally on organic search? Well, posts about hiring your 12th employee or your company’s mission and values don’t help at all with organic search, and that makes them empty calories. The search engines consider them noise, and they rank in part on signal to noise ratio.
And, beyond that, your prospective buyers just. don’t. care. And it’s them you need to impress.
There are cases where you might want PR-type content on your blog, such as if you’re referring to it during sales conversations or syndicating it somewhere strategically. But you’ll have ways of knowing when that will actually help you. Until you’re sure it will, assume it won’t.
7. Be Consistent and Measured
I’ll close with one last bit of advice that’s a little more philosophical, but equally important. And it has to do with how you approach your blog and your content in general.
Be consistent and measured in your approach.
The dustbin of blogging history is littered with content creators that starting writing with enthusiasm and gave up when, after 3 weeks, they didn’t have thousands of visitors. It’s easy to get too enthusiastic and burn yourself out. And it’s likewise just as easy to fail to launch, never getting into a rhythm in the first place.
So understand that you’re making a long term investment of time and probably money besides.
Think of your content strategy the way you’d think of as committing to a gym membership or a new side hustle. It’s going to take a lot of effort and it won’t pay off immediately. But if you stick with it, approach it rationally, measure your progress, and just keep showing up, the eventual rewards will amaze you.